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Heads Up! Sushi Passion Expands Into Great Western Arcade

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Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Promised I’d keep an eye on the place, didn’t I?

There was a very heartening post on the Facebook feed this afternoon. One of the best foodie destinations in Birmingham is expanding.

Sushi Passion has been a big hit since it set up a tiny bar among the fish mongers of the Bullring’s Indoor Market.

It was a plucky, bold move for Adam the owner, who as mentioned in previous posts, was always the best chef at Yo Sushi’s former Brindley Place location. Adam struck out on his own, making amazingly presented, high quality sushi with a true foodie sensibility.

He received Facebook flack for setting up in the market and answered back valiantly.  Were they kidding? This is the best place to be, surrounded by ingredients at their freshest. Half the fun of shopping at London’s Borough Market is visiting the food stalls inside.

Thankfully  lots of us saw that this was a good thing and Sushi Passion had regular lunch queues and loyal customers. Customers who are about to be very happy with the news that Sushi Passion is setting up shop in the Great Western Arcade.

From August, Unit 31 will be open for sushi galore. There will be the familiar bar up front as well as low traditional tables and instructions on how to eat and what to order from the staff.

Adam is a very inventive chef so expect lots of specials.

This is good news for the Great Western Arcade, situated in an area that unlike Grand Central or the Mailbox, is not seeing an influx of city investment.

But with Sushi Passion joining the ranks of the Loki Wine Tasting House,  the Whisky Shop, Anderson & Hill and The Bread Collection, the Arcade is fast becoming a viable foodie destination in Brum.

And best of all, Adam assures me that the Bullring sushi bar is going nowhere. Bonus foodie points.

Daniwah! 

 

 

 

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Mailbox Vs Corporation Street: The Saga of Brum’s Big City Plan

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Big City Plan: It looked like a piece of cake, didn't it?

Big City Plan: It looked like a piece of cake, didn’t it?

Back when I was a little blonde girl, I used to play with dolls houses/ Sylvanian Families’ shops, and when these became too restricting I made my own abodes and SMEs out of spare shoe boxes. Plot-lines between the dolls/ badgers/ frogs and clowns unfolded daily, and even though ovens regularly doubled as beds for small animals, there was a place for everything and everything in its place. Now that I am all grown up (!), I frequently find myself doing the same thing with Birmingham when I can’t get to sleep.

The Big City Plan never ceases to yield a number of articles in each week’s Post or Mail, and because of the constant soap opera of town planning in our fair city (as if it is the opening sequence to Game of Thrones), it is impossible not to play doll’s houses with the map sometimes.

Recently, reports of a £50 million upgrade to The Mailbox emerged. We are getting a full-sized Harvey Nicks (yay), and a roof over our heads as we walk through the shops (which, as anyone who has had to endure the British weather during a winter routine puddle-dodge through The Mailbox can surely attest, is a good thing). It is throwing off the depression at being largely abandoned by the BBC and re-embracing the unique identity originally carved out for the former sorting office.

It's close to two Station entrances so The Mailbox gets a £50 million upgrade.

It’s close to two Station entrances so The Mailbox gets a £50 million upgrade.

When I used to live near The Mailbox I always found it a little dispiriting to walk through the empty banks of shops and felt a bit sheepish when the news networks described it as ‘Upmarket’ and ‘Prestigious’ during the riots. Although I knew that The Mailbox and John Bright Street would eventually come into their own when the Station expansion and Metro were completed, and I’m glad things are getting back on track, I did not foresee the downside to the shift in city centre spending.

This weeks’ episode of the Brum saga (and for once I am not talking about Peaky Blinders) is the knock-on effect this will have on the shops of Corporation Street and the surrounding warren of lanes. Rex Johnson (the lovely, friendly CS-based jewellers’) delivered a worrying vox-pop revealing that the station/Metro road-works had been nothing short of disastrous for their business. I have always wanted Brum to have its own independent quarter (not just for knock-off pop-ups or market stalls) and I’m not alone but why can’t the Chamber of Commerce, the banks, the landlords and the business owners work together to make this happen? If Corporation Street/ Cannon Street and the rest are perfect places for small businesses (SMEs) and the ubiquitous chains are moving to the Bull Ring/ The Mailbox and Grand Central, there has to be a lowering of commercial rents to help these businesses to start up and thrive. I have seen too many small businesses here go under before they even had the chance to make an impact. And time and time again, high rent and low footfall is to blame.

Corporation Street: It's not only the Ladies that's closing.

Corporation Street: It’s not only the Ladies that’s closing.

 There is no reason for Birmingham rates to creep ever closer to London’s extortionate commercial rates. And whilst the threat of a Saturday Strike for businesses last October did spur the Council and local groups to give support and to drop rents by a meagre 7.5%, I think 20% until the conditions improve would be a far more caring gesture. The 60% of expenditure that shopping provides to Birmingham would only increase if there was a diversity of services – this means independents.

Yes, having a Kiehls or a White Company shop in town is very nice, but nicer still is a town where shops run by local people can give our city a greater sense of community and service in a world increasingly held to ransom by the same twenty monopolising shop brands. A high street it is not. Let’s pull for the underdog and support Birmingham’s independent businesses – you’ll miss them when they’re gone!

New additions: But improvements in one area can mean failure for independent businesses.

New additions: But improvements in one area can mean failure for independent businesses.

In Praise of Birmingham’s Markets

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Image

I’ve been spending every other weekend in London of late (the husband has moved there for work) and as a cash-strapped bucket-list, I’ve made it my mission to visit all of London’s most favorite market places, just to soak up the atmosphere, browse the wares and take colourful photos.

I’ve been to the trendy one (Spitalfields), the crowded one (Portobello), the gourmet one (Borough), the sneezy one (Columbia Road Flower Market), the spicy one (Brick Lane) and I intend to get round as many as I can – I’m even going to the stinky one (Billingsgate – by 5.30am most of the stock is gone leaving just the fruity language).

Trawling the London market stalls has got me thinking about Birmingham’s markets. I’ve always loved visiting the huge Bullring market complex that comprises the Indoor market, the Rag Market and the Open Fruit and Veg Market just outside.

Because of Brum’s rich cultural diversity, the market stalls contain items be they sari material, spices or fruit from all over the world. The home grown stuff is also fab and I particularly enjoy popping down to the Indoor Market whenever I’m in need of fish.

In other ways, I feel the markets could ‘tweak’ some aspects that would make them a destination in themselves and not just a delight to be discovered by those who live in town.

Things I Love About Brum Markets
The Banter – particularly at the fish stalls and the Open Market, the stall-holders will vie for your attentions and that means they are in the mood to haggle (hooray!).

At Columbia Road a couple of weeks ago I heard this gem: ‘Do you know where you’ll be in an hour? I’ll be at Heathrow getting on a plane and I don’t wanna take all these lover-ly flowers. So quick, buy em!’ While another seller just yodelled like Tarzan…

Fresh Produce – There’s nothing like getting up early and getting down to the market. The earlier the better (as I learnt living in Florence, the flies sleep in a bit). Also, the fish will be properly gutted, even filleted for you if you like and at a waaaaay better cost than you’ll find at the supermarket.
Fish Stall
As we’re having a bit of a heat wave, wouldn’t these bad boys look good boiling away in a broth on the barbecue?
shell fish
Cheap as Chips – I used to come here if I had to dress up for one of those dreaded themed bar-crawls. And it didn’t disappoint. There are loads of cheap materials for budget-conscious dress makers, cheap make-up (a British market staple), and a fabulous haberdashers Pete’s Sew Good which I’ve often used.

Pete's Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Pete’s Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Also the market helps no end on my wedding anniversary because we do themed gifts each year with a £10 budget. This year was leather (no sniggering please) and I found some leather shoe insoles for £2 (yup, romance is definitely not dead) at the always surprising hardware stall – something which every market worth its salt should have btw.

If you've never had to buy a plunger you're not as independent as you think you are.

If you’ve never had to buy a plunger you’re not as independent as you think you are.

Diversity

Scallions next to mooli - this sums up the role of the veg market.

Scallions next to mooli – this sums up the role of the veg market.

No not the dance troupe (honestly)… Markets should always pair the familiar with the exotic and Birmingham does a great job with this. Otherwise, how would we find out about new things? But you can still find all the comforting staples of traditional British cooking such as root veggies:

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

and er, tripe…

Although it's THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

Although it’s THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

The Relationship between chef and produce – the area around Borough Market in London is a foodie paradise. The ingredients travel straight from the stall to the kitchen in next to no time. One person who understands this is Adam from Sushi Passion which stands in the Indoor Market. I remember Adam from his time at Yo Sushi in Brindley Place and he was always busy and industrious. His efforts going solo seem to be paying off as there are always customers queuing for his beautifully presented sushi, especially on Saturdays.

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Recently on Facebook, Adam said he had received criticism for setting up in the market but I actually think this is a wonderful place for a food stand – it’s a hard-core foodie move, like including a ‘chef’s table’ and customers will certainly feel the connection between what is on the plate and where it comes from. I for one, would welcome more restaurants inside the market.

Things I Wish Brum Markets Would Do
A Weekly Gormet Market – We get some good periodic food festivals here in Brum, although in recent years there hasn’t been a sure-footed direction in terms of what should be celebrated – which in turn has led to less food fests.
Why not sort this out buy using the Open Market on Sunday and Monday when the regular stall-holders have their days off? Sunday markets are a London tradition which has continued from the days of Jewish immigrants to the present (think Brick Lane and Columbia Road which both occur on Sundays).

Let the bi-monthly Farmer’s Markets become a weekly event and centre it here. Let some of the fab Birmingham delis such as Lewis’ and Nima out in Moseley bring some of their offerings to the centre. Likewise, we have wonderful bakers such as Lucky 13 Bakehouse and Frost & Snow (who I know do stands), not to mention the baked goods on display at the Brum Uni farmers market. Borough Market attracts huge Saturday morning crowds for this very reason.

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

A Weekly Street Food Market – street food has become a British success story in recent years. Birmingham has some brilliant permanent stands itself such as Chilacas in Brindley Place (would we have seen street food take up a high profile restaurant spot even 5 years ago?) and our curries are internationally celebrated.

The Digbeth Dining Club operates a small but thriving street food market on Friday night under the railway arches in Digbeth, but they currently have to rotate the stalls (I’m not sure if this to prevent the club stagnating or if they just don’t have the space) but why not expand it and bring it to the city centre? As visitor figures for the German Christmas Market have shown, there is an appetite for this type of event.

Display Food like a Renaissance Painting –
This is how mushrooms are displayed at Borough market:photo (46)
and this is how veggies are displayed at one stall in the Open Market:
photoNot quite the same effect, is it? I like fruit and veg to tumble in abundance (oo-er, getting a bit Nigella food-porny here). It begs you to reach out and touch the produce (which is good market practice to check for ripeness).
Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham’s markets are doing just peachy without making any of these changes. It’s just my fantasy market, that’s all.

But who knows, maybe they could increase Brum’s fortunes…
fortune teller

It’s Heeeeeeere! Christmas Market is back in Brum

Sorry for the allusion to Poltergeist, I’m having a Halloween Hangover. Anyway, The Frankfurt Christmas Market is back in town for the 11th year running. This is apparently still the largest Christmas market outside Germany. I was wandering back home through Victoria Square last night and thought I’d share these photos of the last minute […]

Wow – the coffee gods answer prayers quick!!!!!

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So I did a little intelligence gathering today… For a couple of months now, the wonderful Urban Coffee Company has been running a tiny cubicle in the Mailbox. Here is a handy picture:

Urban Coffee Co’s cute little cup-shaped cafe.

and yesterday I heard a very intriguing rumour which I set out to verify. A little coffee bean reliably informs me that UCC has submitted a proposal to open a permanent coffee shop in one of the (many) vacant units in the Mailbox. If they are given the go ahead, this neighbourhood could see a good quality independent coffee shop by the end of October. In which case this would be my reaction:

Further to this intrigue is the mystery of Caffe Vergnano 1882. On the third level of the Mailbox stands a fully operational coffee shop which has not been open during my three years in this city. Like a service industry Mary Celeste, the tables are wiped down, the plates are laid out, the espresso machines are polished but the lights remain permanently off and no sign of it ever being open exists. A web search yields very scant results. The facts are that this chain is thriving in London and throughout Europe and the Birmingham Post did report that the Birmingham branch was due to open in March 2010. One solitary photo shows the cafe open (but it looks like a publicity shot).

Today I was going to photograph this unusual sight but to my surprise the cafe had been sealed over with billboards. This coupled with the rumour of a new coffee shop is surely more than a coincidence. Has UCC done a deal to take on this deserted cafe? Stay tuned to find out.  

Independent Coffee Shops – Please Brum, can we have some more?

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Yay, first post on a clean new blog.

When a whole city is spread out before you, it’s hard to know what to focus in on first.

The first thing people notice about Brum is the shopping (the Bull Ring, the Rag Market, the Fish Market, New Street yadda yadda). I have to say that this is the thing that will start to bore you first, living here. The crowds are horrendous (Primark any time after Tuesday afternoon is just asking for perdition and should therefore be avoided at all costs), the shops mostly chainy (the recession has hit hard here with some much lamented casualties) and the emphasis is on mindless consumerism.

After an hour in the trenches of the high street, some form of restorative beverage is needed. Sure you can go to the many out-posts of Starbucks, Costa and Nero that pepper the centre but you take your chances here. I can attest (after much caffeinated research) that the coffee shops near the er… shops are as crowded as the shops themselves. Comfy and cosy it is not.

Cue the role of the indy coffee house; those mythical sanctuaries for the broad-minded, the quirky and those who actually want to find FILTERED COFFEE in this country. I swear there used to be way more of these in major cities but during the last 10 years they have become a dying breed (the coffee houses, not the coffee – coffee snob husband reliably informs me filtered coffee has NEVER taken off over here). The leases for city centre retail space have not been lowered to keep the high street afloat during the economic climate (a no-brainer, surely), pushing the independents to the fringes of the shopping areas or out of business completely. It is here we should take a moment to pause and remember the dearly departed 90 Day Cafe (and their delicious cupcakes) and Shakes.

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BUT  fear not, a quiet coffee revolution is in our midst. There are some small coffee shops that are thriving in Brum. Go, enjoy, support.

This is my new favourite little find. It is teeny, tiny and has been going about a year now. It delivers filtered coffee (hurrah) without any unnecessary fanfare. The baristas are friendly and remember regular customers. They also serve a to-die-for chocolate Guinness cake that I bought a platter of when they held a stall at this year’s A Taste of Birmingham event (it wasn’t all for me, I promise). The shop has a basement where you can hold private events and has been used for tango workshops, food events and art exhibitions. Oh and the best thing about this place? When I first walked in they were playing an old album from The Beat. Good music = good atmosphere = good coffee house in my opinion.

With two locations (the other one is in the Jewellery Quarter), Urban Coffee Co is rapidly becoming a major success story in the independent coffee market. I love that they have a handmade look to their premises (shabby chic), as if they are merely very responsible, creative squatters. An eclectic customer base is always a good thing too. On week days, you get computer-programmers working remotely alongside office coffee–runs and dreamers such as myself. Again, the staff is happy to start a conversation with you (especially if you are a smiley new face) and the radio plays in the background with regular news bulletins. Did I mention they do fabulous red velvet cupcakes? And there is a knitting group on Saturday mornings (heaven)? They also meet the gold standard of indy coffee shops in that yes, there is FILTEED COFFEE!!!!!! Here they make it a little showier by pouring it through elaborate china funnelled filters but my husband assures me that the end result is like caffeine heroin. The husband was so chuffed with this discovery (until this point we had yet to find filtered coffee outside of London) that he provided a video clip for UCC’s Birmingham Business Award nomination film (I hid – it was NOT a good hair-day).

An honourable mention for this place. It is convenient for the morning coffee run and prides itself on its coffee cocktails. It hosts networking events, music nights and arts events and for that I salute it. The trouble is I think they could do better. The atmosphere isn’ t that relaxing, the chairs are more sleek than comfy,  there is no filtered coffee (I mean come ON) and I once heard the staff tell a Japanese tourist that they didn’t know what afternoon tea was (I really think it was this event that swung it for me). For the size of the place they could be doing more in the way of food. There is another branch in Manchester and I suspect this could result in a chain of Café Blands Blends, that could be an upmarket Starbucks. Ok-ish.

  • Coffee Time, The Square, B4 7LG (sorry no website).

This one I haven’t had a chance to visit yet but I keep hearing good things. It’s tiny and situated just behind The Oasis alternative indoor market. The food and drinks are very reasonably priced (something that alas, is not the norm with coffee shops) and lots of power points for you mobile workers out there. Would love to hear people’s experiences here as it sounds unpretentious and cute.

Sadly I can’t think of any more cafes in the centre that aren’t chains right now (Bebo and Gusto are chains – who knew?) so I hope the coffee and economic gods will hear my fervent prayer: please, please, pretty please  indy coffee shops, could you come to the Broad Street – Mailbox area? We are not all beer-guzzling, hen partying louts. A lot of us make our homes here and we need you in our community! For our sanity.

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